Alys Brangwin spotted Joss Howland before he saw her. The burly hunter was sitting at a table in the Guild bar, and it took Alys no more than two seconds to decide to leave and spare herself an encounter with her most persistent, and moronic, suitor.

"Hi, Alys!"

Apparently that was too much time.

It wasn't Joss who'd called but Alys's friend Fenris, a pretty girl who'd let her curly hair go back to its natural red. Joss's head snapped up at the word "Alys," though, his nostrils flaring like he'd just caught a scent.

"Yo, babe!"

Steeling herself, Alys walked over to the table where Joss appeared to be holding court for Fen and a couple of other hunters.

"Traitor," Alys said under her breath.

"Sorry; I didn't think," Fenris whispered sheepishly.

"Got a little challenge for ya, here," Joss barked.

"Those usually wind up with you hurting yourself," Alys noted.

"I'm talking about a challenge for the mind, Alys. Bring a hunter's not just about being strong or fast or a good fighter. It's about being smart, improving your mind!"

"I think I just improved my mind with the definition of the word ironic." Fen and one of the other hunters smirked. Joss didn't appear to get the joke, which just went to prove her point.

"You see these six cups?" He waved at the wooden wine-flagons lined up on the table. "They're alternating full and empty. Now, I'll swap these two cups, and it becomes three full cups, then three empty cups." He reversed the second and fifth cups. "Now, what'll you be that you can put 'em back the way they were?"

"That doesn't sound very challenging, Joss, unless you've glued the cups to the table."

"While only touching one cup?" Joss smirked.

"Oh, look," Alys said, "someone taught him a trick."

"Be nice," Fen said.


She thought it over.

"Good point."

Joss, meanwhile, ignored the byplay.

"Give up? Watch. I'll show you how it's done."

He picked up the second cup, the middle of the three full ones, and poured its contents into the middle empty cup, then set it back down.

"There you go!" He tapped each cup in turn. "Full-empty-full-empty-full-empty. Looks like you owe me a date, Alys."

"Excuse me?"

"You didn't figure it out, did you? So pay up."

Alys sighed.

"Fascinating as this descent into the world of bar bets has been, Joss, I have to point out a few flaws in your claim. Namely one, I never agreed to bet anything; two, no one ever mentioned what the stakes would or wouldn't be if I did agree; and three, since I never tried to solve your puzzle you can hardly say that I failed."

"C'mon, Alys, take your loss like a man."

"If I did things like a man, Joss, you wouldn't spend so much of your time irritating me." While he was still puzzling over that one, she continued. "Since I'm, amazingly, in a good mood, I'll go you one better. Those cups are currently alternating full and empty. I bet I can make them all the same without touching any of them."

"Touching none of them? That's not possible."

"If I can't do it, I really will go out with you. If not, you go home and let me eat in peace. Is it a bet?"

"You're on."

Alys nodded, then swept her foot up and kicked the table over. The now-empty cups bounced along the floor, illustrating why Garn had switched to wood from breakable glass. The large stains spreading across Joss's tunic and pants illustrated why cup tricks should never be done with red wine.

"That's why they're called bar bets," Fen noted. "They don't work quite the same at a table."